The Psychopharmacology Algorithm Project at the Harvard South Shore Program: An update on management of behavioral and psychological symptoms in dementia

Psychiatry Res. 2021 Jan:295:113641. doi: 10.1016/j.psychres.2020.113641. Epub 2020 Dec 13.


Geriatric patients with dementia frequently present with agitation, aggression, psychosis, and other behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia (BPSD). We present an update of our previously published algorithms for the use of psychopharmacologic agents in these patients taking into account more recent studies and findings in meta-analyses, reviews, and other published algorithms. We propose three algorithms: BPSD in an emergent, urgent, and non-urgent setting. In the emergent setting when intramuscular (IM) administration is necessary, the first-line recommendation is for olanzapine (since IM aripiprazole, previously favored, is no longer available) and haloperidol injection is the second choice, followed by possible consideration of an IM benzodiazepine. In the urgent setting, the first line would be oral second-generation antipsychotics (SGAs) aripiprazole and risperidone. Perhaps next could be then prazosin, and lastly electroconvulsive therapy is a consideration. There are risks associated with these agents, and adverse effects can be severe. Dosing strategies, discontinuation considerations, and side effects are discussed. In the non-emergent setting, medications are proposed for use in the following order: trazodone, donepezil and memantine, antidepressants such as escitalopram and sertraline, SGAs, prazosin, and carbamazepine. Other options with less support but potential future promise are discussed.

Keywords: Agitation; Algorithm; Behavioral and Psychological Symptoms of Dementia: Dementia; Pharmacology.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Academic Medical Centers / methods*
  • Aged
  • Algorithms*
  • Antidepressive Agents / therapeutic use
  • Antipsychotic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Aripiprazole / therapeutic use
  • Benzodiazepines / therapeutic use
  • Citalopram / therapeutic use
  • Dementia / diagnosis
  • Dementia / psychology*
  • Dementia / therapy*
  • Electroconvulsive Therapy / methods
  • Haloperidol / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Olanzapine / therapeutic use
  • Psychopharmacology / methods*
  • Risperidone / therapeutic use


  • Antidepressive Agents
  • Antipsychotic Agents
  • Citalopram
  • Benzodiazepines
  • Aripiprazole
  • Haloperidol
  • Risperidone
  • Olanzapine